How Not to Buy a Used Camper Trailer

how-not-to-buy-a-used-camper-trailer

In July of 2014, our daughter was 3 months old and I was still recovering from bunion surgery on my foot a few weeks earlier. I was under doctor’s orders to rest, stay on the couch, and not put any weight on my foot. That was the plan anyway.

While resting, I found a travel trailer on Craigslist built by a company called Earthbound. how-not-to-buy-a-used-camper-trailerThis thing looked like a spaceship on wheels. It was beautiful. And better yet, it was in excellent condition and thousands below what the other Earthbounds were selling for.

I called the seller and told him I would give him full price and could be there within 1 day (I promise, the price was waaaay below normal). He said he had another guy who had been haggling with him over the price for weeks, but that guy had his chance, so he would sell it to me.

I was crazy excited. The problem. This thing was in Myrtle Beach. Over 500 miles away. I felt like it would still be worth it though.

It was 1pm, so we figured we could drive into the night until we were an hour or two away and then get there early the next day to have plenty of time to inspect the RV.

I rented a room online and went to the bank to work out the money and get a cashier’s check. This all took about an hour. As we were about to start heading toward Myrtle Beach, my phone rang.

It was the seller. He said he was accepting an offer from the other buyer. I was furious. I knew exactly what had happened. The seller had called the other buyer and used me for leverage to up the price for the buyer he had been working with.

I don’t get angry very often. Maybe once or twice a year. This was one of those times. I was furious. I let the seller know I’d already set up the trip and had his check in my hand.

I told him what he did was dishonest and probably a few other things I shouldn’t mention. I was so mad I had to get off the phone to keep from saying things I would regret.

I went from the bank to the house to let Marissa know what had happened, how furious I was, and how the deal had fallen through. Then the phone rang again.

It was the seller apologizing and letting me know he would sell the RV to me. I was still irritated, but wanted the RV enough that I agreed to come buy it.

RV Buying Tip: Don’t deal with dishonest sellers.

We drove until late into the night and zombied our way into our hotel room at 1am. This trip had not exactly been a pleasure cruise.

If you have a 3 month old, a wife who frequently uses the bathroom, and a driver who is supposed to be bed-ridden, do not drive 500 miles away. What should have taken 7 hours had taken us 10.

We rested very little in the hotel room. The baby screamed. The AC made some crazy noise all night. The bed was uncomfortable. 3 hours of sleep at most.

My alarm went off at 7am as planned, but I was already awake giving the insanely loud AC unit a death stare. We managed to wake ourselves up, complained about no breakfast at the hotel (we like our food) and sloshed our way to the truck.

Four hours later, as the GPS told us we were near the address, I wondered if it was wrong. We had gone from a highway, to a paved road, to a smaller paved road, to a gravel road, to some sort of mystery road that I would consider a mixture of dirt and sand. If it ever rained hard, I’m assuming the residents either had 4 wheel drive or they waited for someone to rescue them.

We pulled up to what the GPS said was the house. Now I’m not trying to judge anyone if you live in a trailer (I lived in one for years and technically still do even though it now has wheels), but this RV we were buying typically sold for 25k. I did not expect it to be sitting at a run down travel trailer in the backroads of South Carolina to buy it.

My wife turned and gave me a look like, “You can just keep this truck moving. There is no way I’m taking our baby in there.” Doing what any loving husband and father would do, I pulled the truck in the driveway, walked straight up to the front door and knocked away.

A man in his 70s with shorts, a t-shirt, and a cane came to the door. We shook hands and he told me his wife had left the keys to the RV 4 hours away where they were staying the day before and had left this morning to go get them.

“How long will she be?” I asked. He told me it would be another 2 hours. Ugh. At this point it was almost 12pm and we hadn’t had lunch, but I went back to my wife in the truck and she said we could tough it out for 2 hours.

So for 2 hours we sat in the trailer waiting on his wife. I’m not sure if it was her motherly instinct or what, but my wife was creeped out at this place. At one point the man took me out back to show me something in his shed (ok, now that I think about it, it does sound creepy) and my wife was fairly certain I would not come back alive.

RV Buying Tip: Leave some cushion for time if you are traveling to look at an RV. Things rarely go as planned. 

Two hours passed, but it felt like ten. Then the man’s phone rang. It was his wife. He hung up the phone and said, “Great news, she is only 2 hours away.” Two more hours! I wanted to leave, but it took us more than 30 minutes of backroads to reach the trailer, so at this point, we might as well wait another 2 hours.

Two hours later, the wife finally showed up. We drove our truck and the elderly couple drove theirs as we all packed up to go see the RV that was in storage (which is why I didn’t see it at the house).

As we pulled up to the RV, my heart sank. This thing was not in excellent shape. Their storage was on the beach so the paint was fading and there was some rust from the salty air.  There were also dents and scratches in the RV.

RV Buying Tip: Don’t assume the seller’s idea of excellent is the same as your idea of excellent. Ask specific questions on the phone like I describe at rvtrippin.com before making a trip. Trust, but verify. 

how-not-to-buy-a-used-camper-trailerAlthough the outside was not up to par, the RV’s saving grace was the inside. It was in what I would consider excellent condition with very few signs of use.

I loved the inside of the RV. However, my wife had concerns. Her first comment to me was “it feels too small.” Now if this was the first RV we had looked at, there might not have been as much weight to her comment. However, at this point, we had already looked at dozens of RVs so she had a pretty good feel for what she wanted.

Like your typical idiot husband, at this point I was tired, hungry (we still hadn’t eaten lunch), and I wanted to move forward, so I told her it just feels small at first, but you should get used to it.

RV Buying Tip: Listen to your wife.

After the first walkthrough it was time to start inspecting the RV. We tested the lights and the AC units, and the stove. All worked normally.

We unhooked the RV from shore power, but needed to move it to another RV spot to have water so we hooked it up to our truck.

used-camper-trailer-jackAfter hooking it up to the truck, I remembered I need to test all the Jacks. All of them worked except for one of the rear ones would not come down. The seller let me know the jack probably didn’t have enough power because it was running off of the truck battery. This didn’t make sense to me since the other jacks worked, but I was exhausted so I moved on.

RV Buying Tip: Don’t take your sellers word for something. Let them show you it works.

As a sidenote to our trip so far, there was also a hurricane coming toward the coast of South Carolina close to where we were. The storms were about to start hitting any minute.

RV Buying Tip: Check on conditions before you make your trip. Weather conditions as well as the seller’s ability to supply all the hookups you need for inspection (water, electric, and gas).

By the time we finished the electrical inspection and unhooked to move the RV for the water part, it had already been over an hour and the rain had started. As we pulled our truck to the new spot for water, the rain had started falling so hard it almost hurt to stand out in it.
This was monsoon rain. The type of rain that if you stuck your head out of the vehicle for one second and brought it back in your hair would be drenched and water would be running down your face. You couldn’t see more than 5 feet in front of you it was raining so hard.

The sellers called us from their truck and told us we could spend the night with them and then finish the inspection tomorrow if we wanted.  I looked at my wife and she shook her head to say “no way is that happening”. I was also tired (3 hours of sleep), hungry (still hadn’t eaten), and irritated things had not gone well. I told them I wanted to press on.

RV Buying Tip: Rest up before you inspect an RV. Stupid decisions multiply if you are tired and not thinking straight. 

So here I am on my crutches. Hopping around in this pre-hurricane weather trying to hook this RV up to a water spigot with a 70 year woman hobbling around trying to do the same (her husband stayed in his truck while my wife and the baby stayed in ours).

After  5 minutes of trying to drag out the hose and not being able to see what we were doing, the lady looked at me and yelled through the pouring rain “I swear on my life there is nothing wrong with this RV. Please don’t make me hook this thing up!”.buying a used camper

I felt terrible. If I hadn’t been on crutches, I probably would have finished hooking up myself, but I just couldn’t physically do it. It took everything I had to stay upright in the storm while on crutches.

I told her it was ok, we didn’t have to hook up the water and we both got back in our trucks, drove to a notary, and finalized the purchase. Our first RV purchase nightmare was over. Ha. Not quite.

We’d rented a campsite on the beach close to where we bought the RV to enjoy our purchase the first night, but we had to flee the city because of the hurricane. We drove almost two hours before we could find a campground with availability away from the storm (it was July 4th weekend).

With it being well after dark and me on crutches I couldn’t even hook up the RV myself. I asked a neighbor to help and they gladly gave a hand.

After we hooked it up and I turned on the water, my worst nightmare came true. Water continually rushed out of the back of the RV and splatted on the pavement until I rushed (ok hobbled) back to the water spigot and turned the water off.

I wanted to find out the problem, but it was almost 10pm and I was exhausted. We spent our first night in our “new to us” RV with no water.

The next morning, I asked for the help of two more neighbors (RVers are awesome by the way. The NICEST people you will ever meet). We finally came to the conclusion the RV had not been winterized and there were busted places all over the RV where water was pouring out.

I couldn’t believe it got cold enough at the beach to cause water problems, but I talked to local campers and they said the past winter was the coldest in 10 years and it got cold enough for pipes to freeze. Lucky us.

RV Buying Tip: Don’t leave room for assumptions. Make a list of what you are going to inspect before hand and stick to it!

So around lunch, I drove our newly purchased trailer to a local repair shop to find out that not only had pipes busted at the connections, the toilet was busted, a sink was busted, the tankless water heater was busted and one of the rear stabilizer jacks needed to be replaced. Remember that one? The one that the seller said need a bit more “juice”.

The repair shop said it could take a week or two to repair everything and that the bill would be $2,400! I couldn’t believe it. My heart sank.

I explained to the lady giving me the quote our luck so far and she stared at me with a look that said (this Tennessee idiot does not need to be RVing). While she stared on, I negotiated in the office with the buyers to help us out. After two hours and 6 calls back and forth, they agreed to pay half.

Morally, they should have paid all of it, but legally, I would have had a hard time getting the $1200 they offered even with a lawyer and months of work, so I took it.

I left the camper repair shop and picked up my wife and 3 month old. It was a long trip home. Screaming baby. No camper. And worn out.

Honestly, the only plus that our new camping friends who helped look at the camper and watched my family while I was gone also hooked us up with tons of food. Like enough food for 6 people. Or 2 starving Tennesseans who are driving home. However you want to add it up.

A week later, I got a call from the RV repair shop. Sweet. The RV was done early.

Nope. They explained that I’d had another run of bad luck. Apparently, there was a leak in the roof and the master bed was now ruined. The entire roof also needed to be resealed. It would be another $600 for the repairs.

Two more weeks passed and I finally got the call that the camper was repaired. This time my dad drove down with me. Our wife and child had been through enough on our last outing.

We picked up the camper, paid my life’s savings to the repair shop, and then went on our way.  The End.

Nope.

We pulled into a campground about 10 minutes away and I hooked up the camper to test everything out. When I got to the water part of hooking up the hose and turning on the spigot, I held my breath.

As I turned on the spigot, there it was AGAIN! Water was coming out the back of the RV! It was not as fast as before, but there was definitely water pouring out the back.

I called the repair shop to let them know what was going on. They were about to close, so they sent a technician to our campsite first thing in the morning.

About 8am he showed up got on his back and got to work. It took about 3 hours, but it turns out he had missed one more busted fitting in the shower. He said it did not show up at the repair shop because they did not have enough water pressure.

I have a regulator on my RV, but apparently there is still more pressure at this campground than the repair facility.

RV Repair Shop Tip: Get some freakin’ water pressure.

So around noon, we finally left our site and headed back home. No flat tires. No buffalo jumping out in front of us and totaling our vehicle. No lighting hitting the camper and frying all the electrical. It was smooth, although long, 8 hour trip.

We ended up selling this travel trailer 6 months later because, you guessed it, it was too small. Just like my wife had told me when we first looked at it.

I learned so much from this experience, but I would not wish it on anyone else. I hope you enjoyed the read and here are those tips one more time:

  • Don’t deal with dishonest sellers.
  • Leave some cushion for time if you are traveling to look at an RV. Things rarely go as planned.
  • Don’t assume the seller’s idea of excellent is the same as your idea of excellent. Ask specific questions on the phone like I describe at rvtrippin.com before making a trip. Trust, but verify.
  • Listen to your wife.
  • Don’t take your sellers word for something. Let them show you it works.
  • Check on conditions before you make your trip. Weather conditions as well as the seller’s ability to supply all the hookups you need for inspection (water, electric, and gas).
  • Rest up before you inspect an RV. Stupid decisions multiply if you are tired and not thinking straight.
  • Don’t leave room for assumptions. Make a list of what you are going to inspect before hand and stick to it!

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